There is no magical formula for the number of touches Miles Sanders needs to be one of the game's best running backs in 2021. Head Coach Nick Sirianni is going to feel it out as he goes along. That's going to be the fun part for Sirianni and his offensive coaches – with a plethora of weapons who will do damage with the ball in their hands, Sirianni has options. And Sanders is one of those options, a player entering his third season who has been one of the NFL's best big-play running backs in his first two seasons.
Sanders wants to now "take it to the next level" both as a runner and in the passing game. He huddled up with former Eagles running back Brian Westbrook on Saturday during the Eagles Autism Challenge at Lincoln Financial and that was one of the many topics they discussed. Westbrook, of course, was one of the game's best backs catching the football and winning favorable matchups.
That's the goal for Sanders.
"I want to be the best at everything I do," Sanders said earlier in Training Camp. "I put in a lot of hard work and I'm just starting things, I feel. It's my third year and I know the league, but I feel young and strong and ready to be the best I can be."
We're still a few weeks away from the regular season and Sirianni's offense has yet to reveal itself. The preseason is an exercise in evaluating talent and determining the best 53 players for the 2021 roster. The basics of the offense have been installed and the concepts introduced, digested, and practiced. But nobody really knows, for example, the grand plan with Sanders for when the Eagles take to the road and play in Atlanta on September 12.
What the Eagles do know is that in Sanders they have an explosive and versatile player. He had two carries on Thursday in his preseason debut, taking a handoff to the right side and cutting up inside a nice hole created by the offensive line, making a defender miss and gaining 10 yards. On the second carry, Sanders took it up the gut and kept his legs moving and gained a couple of yards.
And that was his night. And maybe his preseason. With joint practices against the Jets on Tuesday and Wednesday, Sanders is likely to get a lot of touches. He is sharp right now and the Eagles want to keep it that way.
"It's good work," Sanders said about the joint practices. "I think we get a lot out of them. We all get a lot of reps and the tempo is good, so I think it's beneficial for us."
The Eagles feel like they have a good situation in the backfield with Sanders leading the way, and with Boston Scott back for more after his productive 2020 season, with Jordan Howard in the best shape of his NFL life, and with rookie Kenny Gainwell playing very well in the preseason. Jason Huntley is pushing for a roster spot, as is Elijah Holyfield, who gained 31 yards on four carries, including a 20-yarder, against New England.
The team is deep and talented at tight end. The wide receivers are young and improving and threats. Quarterback Jalen Hurts, back on the practice field on Sunday after missing Thursday's game with an illness, challenges defenses on every play. The offensive line, now healthy and experienced with each other, should be among the best groups in the league.
Then there's Sanders, the headliner of the running backs. We don't know how Sirianni plans to use his backs. We don't know how much the head coach is going to incorporate the backs into the passing game. We don't know if the coaching staff has a design on the right number of touches for No. 26.
All of those uncertainties make it tremendously exciting anticipating what the offense is going to look like and how much it will feature Sanders.
"Whatever they ask, I can do it," Sanders said. "I think that's great for me. It's a friendly offense, I feel. We're all going to have the chance to contribute to the success of the offense. Any play, it can be another guy's turn. You have to be ready to go."
Sanders is ready, that's for sure. For exactly how many touches, we don't yet know. But he's going to make the most of them, as he has done in his two seasons with the team. The unveiling begins in a few weeks as all the work the Eagles have put in now and the grand designs of the offense is shown to the world. The sense of anticipation is palpable.